A candlelight vigil lit up an otherwise very dark evening at the Water Feature on Nov. 20. During this Transgender Day of Remembrance, students and faculty members alike gathered in solidarity with transgender lives that were unjustly taken.
On this day, college campuses, community centers and organizations worldwide all held services in memory of people lost to anti-transgender violence.
At UNCP, people gathered to have a much-needed night of discussion and meditation on a very pressing issue—transgender and gender non-binary prejudice.
A faculty member read a statement from transrespect.org at the vigil outlining how severe this worldwide crisis of violent prejudice has become.
In 2017, 325 trans and gender-diverse people were reported murdered. This number is up from 295 in 2016 and 271 in 2015, showing a steady increase in the amount of hateful violence. From January 2008 to September 2017, 2,609 of these people were murdered, according to transrespect.org.
Those that were not rendered speechless spoke without a filter, demanding better from their cisgender (cis) peers, people whose gender identity matches the sex they were given at birth.
Transphobia includes the harmful mentality of certain cis people thinking that those who are not sticking to the stereotypical “boy” or “girl” gender stereotypes is wrong, or that a cis person has the right to ignore a person’s chosen gender identity because of the way that person looks.
Speakers made it a point to say that cis people are privileged not to have to deal with the everyday discrimination, “jokes” and transphobic comments that trans people receive just for being who they are.
Discrimination doesn’t only include harmless teasing. Transphobia is a full-on mentality that turns to deadly violence.
The crowd was silent at the water feature as the long list of murder victims was read aloud: “Jojo Striker...Kashmire Nazier Redd...Kenne McFadden...Mesha Caldwell...”
Students and faculty both fought back tears. Some of the names of victims were people that they knew.
Just having the conversation was a wake-up call for people present.
After a long pause for meditation, one student who identifies as an ally stood and spoke aloud.
“I don’t necessarily identify or call myself as transgender, but I know what it’s like to be treated badly and feel alone just because you’re different. It’s important that we keep talking about these things because it’s wrong,” the student said.
The Day of Remembrance was the culmination of Trans Awareness Week at UNCP.
The Office of Diversity and Inclusion put together an eventful week meant to unite the trans community and its allies on campus.
Events included keynote speakers for issues such as black trans advocacy, educational workshops, readings from trans authors/poets, and ultimately, the vigil held on Nov. 20.
The Office of Diversity and Inclusion promoted Trans Awareness Week and described its goals with the following statement: “[Trans Awareness Week is] a time for transgender people and their allies to take action and bring attention to the community by educating the public and advancing advocacy around the issues of prejudice, discrimination, and violence that transgender people face.
By educating the UNC Pembroke campus and surrounding community on trans issues and identities, we can increase awareness and create a more inclusive and respectful campus community.”
One faculty member who spoke anonymously with the Pine Needle shared their thoughts on the campus climate and outlook for transgender people at UNCP.
“I think it’s important to emphasize that we (trans & non-binary folks) exist within this community and on this campus, and we’ve always been here whether or not we’re being seen, validated, or affirmed by our cisgender classmates or professors,” they said.
The faculty member also said that participation and the atmosphere during Trans Awareness Week give the campus hope that UNCP’s community will be kind and respectful to transgender students as their awareness of the issue grows.
“Trans Awareness Week was an incredibly important part of increasing our visibility on campus and proving to each other that we can and do have community here,” they said.
As the students gathered near the fountain in candlelit meditation, that community was closer than ever.